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THERE has been a bit of a furore in recent days about a school that has been raising four pigs “to teach the children where their food comes from,” taking the decision to send them back to the farmer who supplied them so that they can be slaughtered.
But what has appeared to anger people and set the commentariat a-twittering is the fact that one of the parents, a vegan, opposed the killing of the pigs and tried his best to persuade the school to send the animals to a sanctuary.
Cue howls of moral superiority and vegans “getting on their high horses” or “trying to impose their beliefs on the rest of us.”
It’s all so predictable. As a vegan for 16 years and a vegetarian for 18 before that, I have heard this ridiculous whining more times than I’ve had hot (meat-free) dinners. It never ceases to amaze how clearly intelligent people lose the ability to think logically when they rise in outraged defence of their right to eat what they damn well please, no matter what the moral cost.
Their right to choose suddenly becomes their most jealously defended liberty but what these carnists always exclude from their aggrieved calculations is the suffering that inevitably comes with taking the life of an animal who — I can 100 per cent guarantee — did not want to die.
Why do we preach compassion to our children, then demand they repress this most profound of values in order to learn the “realities” of life? Why do we create in them a moral schizophrenia that they will never be able to square with the true reality of the massive suffering we inflict on the most vulnerable in our midst?
We tell our kids to be kind to animals and then we teach them to look away from the cruelty inherent in taking their lives. We preach non-violence, while simultaneously asking our children to support killing, the most violent act of all, and the totally unnecessary killing of those least able to defend themselves.
In truth, we teach our children to compartmentalise their compassion, to extend it only to the deserving. And the undeserving? Well, those would be the ones we like the taste of.
Harold Brown, a former beef farmer who was raised on a farm and did his share of butchering, knows all about this process of desensitisation, “that nagging little voice in the back of my mind had always, since childhood, told me that there was something inherently wrong,” he says. “All my life I had observed the community that existed in a cow herd, how they grieved for a dead calf or herd mate that had been shot by a deer hunter.
“I had witnessed the joy a cow experiences when she is let out into a fresh new pasture or calves running and kicking up their heels with each other in the field. I now knew for certain that, regardless of the rationalisations I had created, when I killed an animal and saw that light leave their eyes … by extinguishing that divine spark, I had broken a sacred trust.”
Harold is the founder of FarmKind (farmkind.org) and now speaks and writes on the myth of humane meat. And if anyone is in any doubt about that, I suggest they watch this undercover footage (animalaid.org.uk/the-issues/our-campaigns/slaughter) filmed by Animal Aid in 14 separate British slaughterhouses, including one which is Soil Association approved.
If you can bear to watch it all without flinching or being brought to tears, then, and only then, can you talk to me about your “ethical meat.” Don’t be absurd. Moral superiority? The “humanely raised” meat brigade beats any vegan hands down.
When Gail Eisnitz wrote her book Slaughterhouse, she interviewed hundreds of workers in the industry. Every single one admitted to cruelty towards the animals they killed. This is borne out by every undercover investigation that’s ever been filmed in a slaughterhouse. The following quotes are typical.
“They’re fighting you, kicking at you, squealing, trying to bite you, doing whatever they can to try and get away from you … You become emotionally dead.”
“Pigs on the kill floor have come up and nuzzled me like a baby. Two minutes later I have to kill them. Beat them to death with a pipe. I can’t care.”
“I’ve seen thousands of cows go through alive. Sometimes they have all the skin out and they’re all peeled. You can tell they’re alive because when you look at their eyes, you can see tears …”
This is the reality that many vegans cannot forget and which most meat eaters never think about or choose not to see. We see. And, like all social justice campaigners throughout history, when we see a wrong, we don’t keep silent about it. We couldn’t do that and sleep at night with the images of suffering we’ve witnessed burned into our consciousness.
To try to prevent cruelty and violence is the right thing to do, and no accusations of preaching or trying to impose our beliefs on others will ever make it not so.
“Live and let live,” the carnists like to declare, but they refuse to live by their own doctrine. When they let the innocent creatures who die for their momentary pleasure live, we’ll be quiet.
Melanie Joy, who after two decades of research into the psychology of carnism produced the book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism, explores the cultural conditioning that robs children of their instinctive urge to love all animals and produces adults who baulk at the thought of people in China or Korea eating dogs, no matter that pigs, cows and sheep are equally as sentient and capable of suffering.
“Every day,” says Joy, “we engage in a behaviour which requires us to distort our thoughts, numb our feelings, and act against our core values … and every day we could choose not to engage in this behaviour, except we don’t realise that it’s irrational. We don’t see that it’s destructive.”
Today, I have heard rolled out the same tedious rationalisations from carnists I’ve been hearing for years as the story of the school pigs has distracted the media. Piers Morgan, of course, didn’t even manage rationality, simply stamping his foot and shouting: “I love meat” — a stance more eloquently but no less morally redundantly expressed by Kaye Adams on Loose Women who opined: “We live in a meat-eating society.”
What a deep thinker you are, Kay. By that rationale we’d still be burning people at the stake and the US would still have segregation.
All progress in social justice has come about by people being unwilling to accept “the society we live in” and who were ridiculed and opposed as they led the vanguard towards a kinder world. The great Cesar Chavez, labour leader, civil rights activist and founder of the US National Farm Workers Association was one whose sense of justice was universal:
“Cesar took genuine pride in producing numerous converts to vegetarianism over the decades. You’re looking at one of them,” said United Farm Workers president Arturo Rodriguez in 1996 during a speech at a farm conference. “He felt so strongly about it that sometimes I think he took as much personal satisfaction from converting people to vegetarianism as he did from trade unionism.”
Was Cesar demonstrating a “morally superior” arrogance? Or did he simply carry with him a profound wish that there be less suffering, cruelty and injustice in the world?
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